Fix the Senate Now

Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, March 29, 2013

Washington DC – A range of observers this week, including Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), continued to highlight the need for Senate rules reform, in order to raise the costs of obstruction and in order to improve the basic functioning of government.

Quotes of the Week

  • Senator Udall urges continued focus on Senate rules reform throughout the congressional calendar, at a Bipartisan Policy Center discussion: “I think throughout the Congress, we need to highlight…talk about this throughout the year. We’ve had a great example here with Hagel and Halligan. Here you had them come up in the same week, both filibustered, Rand Paul went to the floor on one and she [Halligan] – who I think was one of the best qualified people before us – languished and we don’t know where that’s going to go. I think we need to take the circumstances that we have throughout the year and highlight those and once again keep talking about rules reform and build the case.” 

  • Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice on the withdrawal of Caitlin Halligan’s nomination to the DC Circuit court: “The withdrawal of this highly-qualified nominee is one more illustration of the extent to which Republicans have used unprecedented, partisan obstruction to hijack the United States Senate.  It is still another indication, as if any were needed, that Senate Democrats need to revisit Senate rules reform, and stand up to the tyranny of the minority … We are confident that President Obama now will press ahead with nominating individuals to fill all three D.C. Circuit vacancies still without nominees – and will make the fight for these nominees a top priority.”  

Coverage & Analysis

  • Charlie Cook, National Journal: “In the Senate, between filibusters and the even more pernicious legislative ‘hold,’ it is little wonder why House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has come to refer to the upper chamber as “a cemetery where legislation goes to die … Thoughtful members of Congress should now consider the implications of their actions and contemplate reforms and change practices. Getting rid of the filibuster would change the nature and purpose of the Senate and should be avoided. But reforming the process, starting with getting rid of double-tracking and putting strict time limits on holds, would be a start. ” 
  • Bob Franken, Nationwide Syndicated Column: “He needs to reconsider. It’s not just judgeships that have been stymied, although arguably they are a president’s most important appointments because of their lifetime tenure. The obstructionism has ranged far beyond jurisprudence. Richard Cordray’s nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been stuck in this labyrinth. He’s laboring as bureau head under a so-called recess appointment, but it’s not the real deal. He’s effectively constrained from imposing the strong protection he espouses against predatory manufacturers, merchants and banks. The Republicans claim his agency needs more oversight, but Democrats charge they are creating a smokescreen on behalf of their wealthy corporate patrons who find any oversight to be poison.”
  • Juan Williams, The Hill: “The GOP is betting that voters will blame Democrats for the dysfunction in Congress as much as they blame the GOP. And so far, the bet is paying off, because the press is failing to call out the GOP for an extreme and nasty political strategy of demanding a super-majority of 60 votes —the votes required to break a filibuster — to get anything done. There is, however, one thing that could end the GOP blockade and shake up the ossified politics of D.C. And that is filibuster reform. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) want to require senators to come to the floor to speak during a filibuster. No more silent filibusters based on threats.”
  • Joan McCarter, Daily Kos: “It's also a test of the Senate rules agreed to in January by way of filibuster reform. Reid could move the bill without a motion to proceed, the motion these three say they will oppose, under the new agreement by a new process that guarantees votes on two amendments for each party. With agreement on those amendments, the bill would move into consideration. A senior Democratic aide told Roll Call that Reid wouldn't rule out using this new rule and that every procedural option is on the table. The objecting senators could still filibuster final passage, however … It's a chance to see what the new rules got Reid, at least.”
  • Steve Benen, MSNBC: “And since Republicans face no adverse consequences for these tactics whatsoever -- on the contrary, the GOP is rewarded for its intransigence -- Obama will nominate other qualified jurists for the bench, and Republicans will continue to reflexively block them, too … I'd like to think it's painfully obvious by now that Senate Democratic leaders made a mistake with their filibuster reform "compromise" in January, but the collapse of Halligan's nomination should serve as a powerful case study in the extent to which the status quo is untenable.”

The Costs of Obstruction

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other Democrats have so far declined opportunities to meaningfully reform Senate rules, which currently allow the minority to freely and easily stand in the way of any legislation, nominees or appointments they find objectionable, even if it means crippling an agency. And as the Cannelton miners have witnessed, a paralyzed system has a way of abetting the deep-pocketed and powerful, leaving average citizens to fend for themselves, at least while they're still alive. Three of the Cannelton miners have died while waiting for their reinstatements.”

-Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post, “Board Games: How the Collapse Of The Senate Has Crippled The NLRB And Damaged Lives” 

For more information, or to schedule an interview with Fix the Senate Now leaders, contact Michael Earls at 202-261-2388,



Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, March 22, 2013

On Wednesday, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) bemoaned the slow pace of deliberation in the Senate, and noted that a way to remedy the obstruction is to consider “changing the rules”. Later that day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) hinted at re-visiting rules reform on the Senate floor after Senator Jim Moran (R-KS) threatened to filibuster the stopgap bill in progress of passage. Meanwhile, CNS News reports that at a fundraiser on March 10, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) revealed that current plans are underway to do-away with the 60-vote threshold on judicial nominees if obstruction persists.  

While Democratic leadership threatened to re-visit rules reform in light of the laundry-list of blocked nominations by Senate Republicans, a growing number of outside observers are calling on Senate Democrats to stop talking about real reform and start implementing it.

 Quotes of the Week

  • Senator Dick Durbin (D-NY) said at a breakfast on Wednesday: “I supported Harry’s decision to try to work out a bipartisan agreement on the rules because I think it’s in the best interests of the institution, but I can tell you the abuse that we’ve seen since then is not encouraging at all … [When the moderator asked how that can be fixed, Durbin responded] “Change the rules.”
  • Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said on the Senate floor Wednesday: “It is things like that that will cause the Senate to have to reassess all the rules because right now they accomplish so little … I’m disappointed.”
  • Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said at a fundraiser on March 10: “They just rejected on specious grounds a fine New Yorker named Caitlin Halligan for the second time … Our strategy will be to nominate four more people for each of those vacancies [in the federal judicial courts]. And if they filibuster all of them, it will give those of us that want to change the rules and not allow 60 votes to dominate the Senate but require a talking-filibuster to prevail. So we will fill up the DC circuit one way or another.”

Coverage & Analysis

  • Greg Sargent, Washington Post: “If Dems are not going to revisit rules reform, just make that clear already. Empty threats just risk further angering Dem base voters who are already ticked about the filibuster reform punt earlier this year. Empty threats needlessly inflate expectations that Dems are finally going to take real steps to deliver to their supporters a functional Senate, one that is at least somewhat more capable of moving forward with the agenda so many of them worked so hard for in the last campaign. Empty threats make Dems look weak and do nothing to discourage continued GOP obstructionism. If the status quo is really acceptable enough to Democratic leaders to forestall further action, they shouldn’t bother pretending otherwise. If this is the Senate we’re going to have to live with, Dems should just level with their voters on this point. No more feints and hints without real action.”
  • Jonathan Bernstein, Washington Post: “One is that the press should keep in mind constantly just how radical the GOP’s filibuster-everyone policy is. Treating this level of obstruction as normal misses an incredibly important story about how the government works — or, rather, how it isn’t working … Harry Reid should be threatening party-imposed reform — right now. And Democrats should be ready to pull the trigger if unprecedented levels of obstructionism continue. After all, Democrats are supposed to care if the government actually functions. They were elected to make it work. Reid and Senate Democrats should act now, or they’ll be betraying everyone that voted for them and for President Obama’s agenda.”
  • Brian Beutler, Talking Points Memo: “One of the putative goals of the new rules was to limit the minority’s ability to filibuster what’s known as the motion to proceed — to stop the minority from preventing the Senate from simply debating an issue. The compromise essentially gave the majority and minority leaders more control over that choke point, but didn’t eliminate it entirely … But yet a third supposed goal of rules reform was greater transparency — preventing senators from using parliamentary procedure to hide power moves from public scrutiny. And it’s not working very well in that regard either.”
  • Timothy Noah, The New Republic: “Abuse of the filibuster is part of a larger pattern of obstruction by the Republican minority ... In the past, Democrats have hesitated to push through genuine filibuster reform (or elimination) on the grounds that it would provoke a revolt from Republicans, who would then proceed to use every other means at their disposal to obstruct floor action. At this point, though, one has to ask: How on earth could the GOP be doing more to block action than it’s doing right now?”
  • Cass R. Sunstein, Bloomberg: “But we are in the midst of something genuinely novel: an abuse of the Senate’s constitutional authority that is damaging, at the same time, all three branches of the national government.” 
  • Joan McCarter, Daily Kos: “You don't have to think too hard to work that one out, given the GOP's track record on filibustering executive nominations under this president. The Cordray example might be the most egregious single case—they lost the legislative battle and are taking a scorched earth approach rather than accepting defeat—but taken as a whole, these filibusters reflect a broken institution. What's more, it's an institution that's been deliberately broken by the minority. There really is only one answer: Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats have to make it clear that they're willing to change Senate rules now, mid-session.”

Laundry List of Obstruction:

  • Steve Benen, MSNBC: “It's been a couple of months since Senate party leaders struck a very small deal that tweaked the chamber's procedural rules, and proponents said the reforms would improve how the Senate did business. They were, we now know with certainty, complete wrong … What have we seen since? The first-ever filibuster of a cabinet nominee, a filibuster a CIA nominee, and multiple threats of a filibuster against the Labor Secretary nominee, Republicans have filibustered judicial nominees they don't like and judicial nominees they do like. GOP senators have promised to use filibusters to stop the Obama administration from enforcing the law as it relates to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and to stop the president's nominee to lead the ATF and the EPA.”

For more information, or to schedule an interview with Fix the Senate Now leaders, contact Michael Earls at 202-261-2388,



Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, March 15, 2013

Washington DC – Senate rules reform remained a hot topic this week, spurred by continued attention to the rare sight of Senator Rand Paul’s “talking filibuster” and a gathering array of voices calling on Democrats to re-open Senate rules reform in light of continued Republican threats of filibuster on other nominees.

On Wednesday, President Obama reportedly urged Senate Democrats during a closed-lunch meeting to address the issue of Senate Republicans repeatedly blocking his judicial nominations – after the recent ‘silent filibuster’ of DC Court of Appeals nominee Caitlin Halligan. Later, a Senate Democratic aide confirmed that Senate Democratic leaders were currently engaged in “preliminary discussions” to propose ways to counter filibusters against judicial nominees, as well as other recent forms of obstruction. On Thursday, President Obama called on Senate Republicans to ease up on blocking his judicial and executive nominations.

 Coverage & Analysis

  • President Obama to Senate Republicans, as reported by Huffington Post: “President Barack Obama made a plea to Republican senators in their private meeting Thursday to ease up on their filibusters of his nominees, but he appears to have gotten a cool reception … But it seems that Republicans will not relent on bogging down nominees, and also do not agree they are obstructing Obama's picks.”
  • Senior Democratic aide confirmed the White House’s recent engagement on rules reform to Huffington Post: “Two Senate Democratic sources also told HuffPost that in a meeting with Democratic senators Tuesday, Obama complained about the slow pace of nominations and suggested that the rules be changed.”
  • Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker: “On the same day as Rand Paul’s celebrated filibuster against drone strikes last week, the Senate engaged in a less noticed but more typical form of delay and obstruction. A majority of the Senate voted to bring up the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, but forty-one Republican Senators voted to prevent her from receiving consideration. This is the modern version of the filibuster, far more common than Paul’s thirteen-hour speech. Without sixty votes, it’s now virtually impossible to accomplish anything in the contemporary United States Senate … What, if anything, can Obama do? Given the rules of the Senate, probably not much … For example, eighteen district court nominees, all uncontroversial, are currently awaiting votes on the floor. All will be confirmed eventually, but Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, parcels out agreements to take votes just one or two judges at a time. ‘We are not hearing any opposition to the district court nominees,’ [White House counsel Kathryn] Ruemmler said. ‘The process is just too slow.’”
  • Matt Viser, Boston Globe: “While the Senate’s slowness in approving judges nationwide has been noted, the practical and political impact on the courts of that holdup has received far less attention … It’s the result of a decline in decorum among senators, the willingness of the Republican minority to use tactics that were previously off-limits, and an overall rise in partisanship. The result is that Washington gridlock is resulting in docket gridlock across the country, with courts not getting the judges they need as a result of dysfunction in the Senate.”
  • Ezra Klein, Washington Post: “When Senate institutionalists wax rhapsodic about the upper chamber, they talk about the filibuster’s cherished role in slowing down the majority and permitting passionate minorities to be heard. That is a valuable endeavor! It’s just not at all what the filibuster typically does. It permits passive minorities to win arguments without ever having to speak. It creates a 60-vote supermajority requirement for anything and everything.”
  • Carl Hulse, New York Times: “Given the attention Mr. Paul received, the filibuster may even be enjoying resurgence as grand theater … The fight will take time. Democrats say they want to see how Republicans respond to future appeals court nominees, including another one to the District of Columbia circuit, Srikanth Srinivasan, Mr. Obama’s deputy solicitor general. But a series of filibusters against what they view as acceptable nominees could again bring to a head the push for a change in Senate rules.”

 Quotes of the Week

  • Senior Democratic aide, as reported by Talking Points Memo: “The general agreement was that Republicans would only filibuster nominees in the case of extraordinary circumstances, and once again Republicans are expanding the definition of that term to make it entirely meaningless.”
  • Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), USA Today interview: "There's a lot of respect for somebody who didn't just phone in a hold or an objection ... and some of the [filibuster] reforms that were proposed demanded that there be a talking filibuster."

    • Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), New York Times interview: “We need to design a strategy to counter the Republicans, and we are going to need the president. Rather than putting just one up, we should put before the Senate all four and expose what is happening here.”
    • Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Roll Call: “Of course, the filibuster is not about Halligan’s position on guns. It is about a clear effort to use delaying tactics to keep as many vacancies as possible on the federal courts in case the 2016 elections produce a Republican president.”
    • Joan McCarter, Daily Kos: “The "facts" apparently don't encompass the unprecedented filibuster of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, or the other filibuster of John Brennan at the CIA, or the months long filibuster of any warm body the president might nominate to the CFPB, currently Richard Cordray. Or the 30 filibusters of Obama's judicial nominees in the past four years, five of which ended up permanently blocking nominees … Appeals from President Obama are the last thing that could possibly work with these guys. The only thing that will is Harry Reid going nuclear and changing Senate rules mid-session.”

    Stat of the Week

    • “There are currently 87 vacant seats out of 874 seats on the federal bench, continuing one of the longest periods of high vacancy rates in recent history. About a third of the vacancies are considered by the court system’s administrative agency to be ‘judicial emergencies’ either because of how long they’ve been left open or because the affected courthouses are so busy.”

    -          Matt Viser, Boston Globe

    For more information, or to schedule an interview with Fix the Senate Now leaders, contact Michael Earls at 202-261-2388,



    Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap

    Washington DC – The issue of filibuster reform re-emerged into the spotlight this week, in large part because of two contrasting filibusters deployed on Wednesday.

    In protesting the nominee for CIA Director, John Brennan, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) turned heads by engaging in an old-fashioned “talking filibuster,” speaking for approximately 13 hours. If the Senate had adopted more substantial reforms in January, Senator Paul’s version of accountable obstruction would be the norm, not the outlier. Meanwhile, also on Wednesday, Senate Republicans blocked the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Instead of being forced to hold the floor and debate, Republicans were able to block Halligan without much effort or scrutiny.

    On the heels of other obstructionist firsts this Congress – such as the first-ever filibuster of a Secretary of Defense last month – the Halligan filibuster is the latest evidence that Senate is mired in gridlock and that the compromise over Senate rules reform missed the chance to raise the costs of obstruction. In light of the continued obstruction in the Senate, a number of Senators and outside observers raising the possibility of re-opening Senate rules and filibuster reform.

    Quotes of the Week

    • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV): “We should all reflect on what happened yesterday as we proceed with other nominations, including a number of judicial nominations. This can be a Senate were ideas are debated in full public view – and obstruction happens in full public view as well. Or it can be a Senate where a small minority obstructs from behind closed doors, without ever coming to the Senate floor.”
    • Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL): “We have tried at the beginning of this Senate session to avoid this kind of filibuster confrontation. The last several years we have had over 400 filibusters — a record number of filibusters in the Senate … I hate to suggest this, but if this is an indication of where we’re headed, we need to revisit the rules again.”
    • Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR): “I certainly share Senator Durbin’s statement that if this is going to be the Republican behavior, we’re going to have to review the agreement that was struck so recently … Unless there is a dramatic turnaround, folks will soon be concluding that there’s no intention to honor the spirit of the agreement. … We as senators have a responsibility to the American people to have this chamber function.”

    Coverage & Analysis

    • Carl Hulse, New York Times: “those changes have done little so far this session to curb filibusters, as evidenced by the vote on Ms. Halligan and the politically charged obstacles raised to confirmation votes on Mr. Brennan and Chuck Hagel  … The filibuster is alive and well in the Senate and, as Mr. Paul showed, may even be enjoying resurgence as grand theater … But a series of filibusters against what they [Democrats] view as acceptable nominees could quickly bring to a head the push for a change in Senate rules.
    • Ezra Klein, Washington Post: “But this is why I occasionally think filibuster reform will happen in the not-too-distant future. The idea’s on the table now. And it returns every time the majority feels the minority is abusing the spirit of the last compromise. Which is pretty much all the time.”
    • Dave Weigel, Slate: “‘If a person’s going to make a stand on a nomination, this is the way to do it—the way Sen. Paul is doing it,’ [Senator Jeff] Merkley said. ‘The American people can watch this and weigh in on whether he’s a hero or a bum. That’s reasonable. That honors the traditions of the Senate.’ Merkley contrasted that with the filibuster that happened right before Paul’s speech, one that got perfunctory media attention. For the third time, Democrats tried to advance the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. For the third time she got a majority of ‘aye’ votes but couldn’t break the 60-vote cloture threshold.”
    • Matthew Menendez, Counsel at Brennan Center: "Ironically, at the same time that Sen. Paul was debating the limits of executive power, he and his colleagues were silently filibustering Caitlin Halligan’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. This court has had four vacant judgeships since 2005, and President Obama’s nominees have languished in Senate confirmation purgatory for years. The disconnect is glaring: Using a talking filibuster to demand answers about the limits of executive national security power while at the same time silently disabling the judicial branch, which is central to enforcing constitutional limits on executive authority."

    Fix the Senate Now Coalition Voices

    • Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice: “the recent agreement to ‘reform’ Senate rules really was no agreement at all, but rather a blank check for continued obstruction.  We believe the Senate majority needs to reconsider the terms of this agreement, and revisit serious rules reform.”
    • Bob Edgar, President of Common Cause: “We saw this morning another glaring example of anti-democratic rule by a minority in the United States Senate … A bipartisan majority supported this nomination, but a minority barred them from approving her with another filibuster.”
    • George Kohl, Senior Director for Policy and Legislation at the Communications Workers of America (CWA): "The Halligan filibuster not only destroys the intent of the rules reform compromise agreement for this Congress, but also blows up the Gang of 14 agreement from 2005 that was supposed to limit the obstruction of qualified judicial nominees…This is just the latest reminder that, instead of Senate compromises that perpetuate Senate gridlock, we need actual and substantial rules reform in the U.S. Senate."

    Stat of the Week

    “From 1947 to 1960 -- 7 Congresses, spanning 14 years -- the Senate held four cloture votes. This Congress has only existed for a couple of months, and it's already held five cloture votes. It's only going to get worse.”


    For more information, or to schedule an interview with Fix the Senate Now leaders, contact Michael Earls at 202-261-2388,



    Hagel Filibuster a Reminder of Missed Senate Rules Reform Opportunity & Need for Revisit

    Washington, DC – The unprecedented Republican filibuster of Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel highlights why the U.S. Senate still needs to enact more substantial rules reform, the Fix the Senate Now coalition said today.

    We agree with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) who has called the filibuster of “qualified nominee” Chuck Hagel “tragic.” But the filibuster also illustrates the missed opportunity at the start of this 113th Congress to enact more substantial Senate rules reform that would have raised the costs of obstruction. The Fix the Senate Now coalition supports reforms that would have forced those filibustering the Hagel nomination to hold the floor and keep 41 of their colleagues with them over the upcoming holiday weekend. 

    Leading Senate reform champions and outside observers say the filibuster also provides good reason for the Senate to revisit the issue of rules reform:

    • Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), in a statement: “Merely weeks after the Senate came together in a good-faith effort to fix the Senate’s problems, Senate Republicans are now engaging in the first-ever filibuster of a Secretary of Defense nominee. It is deeply disappointing that even when President Obama nominates a former conservative colleague of the GOP caucus, the minority is abusing the rules and the spirit of ‘advise and consent.’  If our step we took last month is to be successful, extraordinary stunts like today’s filibuster can’t happen.”
    • Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), in the New Mexico Telegram: “The first filibuster of a Secretary of Defense in history shows the Senate very well may need further rules reform…the proposal by Senators Udall and Merkley would not have prevented this filibuster – they never intended to take away that right to debate. But under their proposal, filibustering a cabinet nominee would have required a sustained effort. If they failed to do so, a majority of the Senate would be able to move forward.”
    • Greg Sargent, in the Washington Post: “…if Hagel does go down, it’s hard to imagine anything happening that makes as eloquent a case for Reid and Democrats revisiting filibuster reform than this affair will have done. Remember, the watered down filibuster reform deal Reid agreed to was at least partly premised on the idea that both sides were at least somewhat committed to ending some of the abuses that rendered the Senate dysfunctional during Obama’s first term. We now see that Republicans are making a mockery of that arrangement.”
    • John Avlon, in the Daily Beast: “And the abuse of the filibuster to try to block—or at least delay—the confirmation of a secretary of defense again raises questions about filibuster reform. Because if a senator had to hold the floor and risk his bladder—like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington—while keeping at least 41 of his colleagues on the floor over Presidents’ Day weekend, my guess is that this block never would have occurred.”


    CWA: Filibuster of Hagel Nomination Shows Why We Still Need Meaningful Senate Rules Reform

    Washington, DC – The news that Senate Republicans are planning to filibuster the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense highlights the missed opportunity for enacting more substantial Senate rules reform at the start of this 113th Congress, said the Communications Workers of America.

    The following is a quote from George Kohl, Senior Director at CWA:

    Shame on Senate Republicans for breaking with tradition and seeking to filibuster a Cabinet nominee. However, under the rules promulgated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Reid should keep the Senate in session and force the debate to continue to explain why Republicans are intent on blocking a fellow Republican nominee and decorated war veteran. Leader Reid accepted the obligation to sustain debate under these terms when he agreed to continue unchanged filibuster rules. Under broadly supported reform proposals, the burden would have been on Republicans to sustain their filibuster. Senator Reid should require those who are obstructing the nomination to fully and publicly explain why.

    A real Senate reform package would have made the obstructionists hold the floor and keep 41 of their colleagues with them over a holiday weekend. Yet, Senator Levin, who is point person for this nomination via his position at the helm of the Armed Services Committee, opposed Senate rules reform and claimed that the rules already existed to keep those wishing to filibuster to hold the floor.

    Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the Hagel nomination, the news of the impending filibuster is a reminder that the Senate rules still need real reform, that the Republicans in the Senate remain intent on breaking new ground in Senate obstruction, and that Senate Democrats who worked to scuttle more substantial reforms have forfeited their right to complain.

    Contact: Candice Johnson or Chuck Porcari, CWA Communications, 202-434 1168 or

    Now It?s Official: Leaders Offer More Reaction to Senate?s Missed Opportunity for Real Change

    Washington, DC – Yesterday, the Fix the Senate Now coalition reacted to the agreement between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), calling it “a missed opportunity to provide meaningful filibuster reform, while advancing some decent procedural improvements,” and offering hope that the “Senate proves our overall skepticism wrong and that the new agreement helps the chamber embark on a productive and deliberative session – the hundreds of thousands of individuals who joined the effort for a more functional U.S. Senate deserve this much.”

    Today, leaders and principals involved in the Fix the Senate Now coalition offered further reaction, after the Senate made the agreement official last evening:

    • Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice: “The agreement announced yesterday inches us toward reforming the rules that have paralyzed the United States Senate, but fails to fully address the pressing need for accountability. The agreement does take a step that may ease the shortage of judges in our federal courts, a shortage that denies justice to thousands of Americans every year. We will be watching closely over the next two years to see if this agreement leads to meaningful change.”
    • Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club: “Though some of these proposed changes move us in the right direction, the Senate has missed a real opportunity to clear the way for real reform and real progress for the American people. On behalf of the Sierra Club’s 2.1 million members and supporters, we will continue the fight to not just fix the Senate, but to get polluter money out of politics and protect our democracy for all citizens, so that solutions to our nation’s most pressing problems – from the climate crisis to job creation – no longer take a back seat to needless obstructionism.”
    • Larry Cohen, President of the Communications Workers of America (CWA): “This deal is a missed opportunity to move forward or even ensure debate on the critical issues facing our nation. In recent years, the Senate has failed to discuss, debate, or vote on measures that affect jobs, workers' rights, health care, campaign financing, immigration, and the list goes on and on. For members of our union, and progressives throughout the nation, the failure to enact substantial reform of the senate rules almost guarantees that for two more years, there will not be effective debate, discussion or voting on even the critical issues that the Obama Administration has outlined. The changes proposed may well make the Senate more efficient when it comes to nominations, including the record number of judicial vacancies. But, the Democracy Initiative that CWA helped launch must continue at full speed. The toxic combination of senate rules, money and politics, obstacles to voting rights, and no path to citizenship for millions of immigrants all add up to continued control by the one percent, and a declining standard of living for the rest of us. Today, we are more committed than ever to building a movement for real change. Our coalition is stronger than ever. Through the work of our activists and allies, we created the opportunity for change. We will continue to work to achieve the democracy we all deserve.”
    • Bob Edgar, President of Common Cause: “My friend Harry Reid, the senator from Searchlight, NV, went missing yesterday in the fight for filibuster reform. The ‘compromise’ he has reached with Sen. McConnell is actually a capitulation. It allows individual senators to continue blocking debate and action by the entire body and to do so without explaining themselves to their colleagues or the American people. This is not the Senate of debate and deliberation our founders envisioned. I invite senators who remain committed to reform to join Common Cause in our lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the filibuster rule. The President does not have the power to fix this problem and the Senate clearly won’t fix it; we must turn to the judicial branch to enforce the Constitution.”
    • Diana Kasdan, Counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice: “Yesterday, the Senate once again squandered its best chance this session for meaningful filibuster reform. Recent Brennan Center research documents the dramatic increase in Senate obstruction in recent years and the urgent need to curb this dysfunction. Yesterday’s agreement, while offering minor procedural changes that could expedite legislation, does nothing to alter the abuse of silent, costless, filibusters to block votes on legislation. The public’s strong support of filibuster reform showed the American people wanted, expected, and deserved more. We are encouraged by the strong leadership shown by several of the Senate's veteran and newest members, especially Senators Merkley, Udall, and Harkin, and we will continue to work with them to implement common sense reforms so the Senate can address the critical issues facing our nation.”
    • Bob King, President of the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW): “Our country cannot afford another two years of paralysis and inaction because of obstruction by right-wing Republicans in the Senate. Nearly 400 bills have been filibustered during Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s tenure, and we cannot allow this to continue. Congress must implement President Obama’s agenda and address immigration reform, income inequality, persistent unemployment, climate change and a host of additional pressing issues. The serious challenges facing our country demand the restoration of a functioning democratic institution, and we are deeply concerned that bipartisan reforms passed by the Senate will not restore accountability and end abuse of the filibuster. We urge the Senate to enact substantive rules reform so our nation can move forward. We will continue to demand accountability and action from our elected representatives.”

    And finally, all of us in the Fix the Senate Now coalition want to extend our heartfelt thanks to the courageous champions of real reform, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Tom Harkin (D-IA).  We also want to thank the Senators who stepped forward to cosponsor the more far-reaching reforms in Senate Resolution 4: Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mark Begich (D-AK), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mark Warner (D-VA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

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    Another Missed Opportunity to Deliver Meaningful Change to U.S. Senate

    Washington, DC – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are close to finalizing a deal on Senate rules reform. Unfortunately, the incremental “reforms” in the agreement do not go nearly far enough to deliver meaningful change, the Fix the Senate Now coalition said today. If the agreement proceeds as expected, Senator Reid and the entire chamber will have missed an opportunity to restore accountability and deliberation to the Senate, while not raising the costs of obstruction.

    While the provisions included in the likely agreement may help with streamlining certain nominations, potentially a significant step forward, the agreement avoids measures that would actually raise the costs of Senate obstruction. Neither the talking filibuster provision nor the shifting the burden provision is expected to be included in the final package. While certain details remain important and unresolved, such as potential conditions attached to the elimination of filibusters on the motion to proceed, we know enough to sum up the agreement as follows: a missed opportunity to provide meaningful filibuster reform, while advancing some decent procedural improvements.

    To support the push for real reform, dozens of organizations involved in the Fix the Senate Now coalition sent over 2.5 million emails to members on the importance of fixing the Senate, leading to 100,000 phone calls and nearly one million petition signatures delivered to Senate offices. The coalition, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Americans who contacted their Senators supporting real change, views the minor reforms likely to take hold as a missed opportunity to deliver a truly functional, deliberative, and accountable U.S. Senate. However, there is no doubt the public’s demand for change helped to enact even these incremental steps forward and has put the Senate on notice that the obstruction must end.

    Of particular note, the tireless advocacy of reform champions Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Tom Udall (D-NM) in combination with the engagement of coalition members strengthened the negotiating hand of Senator Reid and helped bring Senator McConnell to a compromise position – not a place Senator McConnell has frequently found himself in recent years.

    We hope the Senate proves our overall skepticism wrong and that the new agreement helps the chamber embark on a productive and deliberative session – the hundreds of thousands of individuals who joined the effort for a more functional U.S. Senate deserve this much. 


    Fix the Senate Now: Senate Should Pursue Most Effectual Reforms Possible

    Washington, DC – While bi-partisan agreement on reforming Senate rules is a laudable goal, the substantial package of reforms needed to end the gridlock that has nearly paralyzed the U.S. Senate  should not be weakened simply to provide a bi-partisan imprimatur, the Fix the Senate Now coalition said Wednesday.

    The Coalition called on the Senate to enact the most substantial package of Senate reforms possible, including what is known as the “shifting the burden” provision. This provision would require the minority to muster 41 votes to continue a filibuster, instead of forcing the majority to come up with 60 votes to end it. The final Senate reform package must raise the costs associated with Senate obstruction. Shifting the burden from the majority to break a filibuster to the minority to sustain it is one way to accomplish this fundamental goal.

    As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) continues in bi-partisan negotiations with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), it is clear Senator Reid has support from a majority of Senators to enact a substantial package of rules changes, if the Reid/McConnell negotiations fail. Thus far, Senator McConnell has refused to support even the minor reforms offered in negotiations. The Senate and the country cannot afford another non-binding “gentlemen’s agreement,” such as the handshake deal reached two years ago, or to settle for a weak and ineffectual proposal, like the Levin/McCain offering. Bi-partisanship must advance, not derail, reform of the U.S. Senate. Below are the key updates and implications for the final days of the Senate rules reform:

    • Key Updates on Reform & the “Shifting the Burden” Provision: Ezra Klein of the Washington Post reports this morning that the reform package Senator Reid is offering to Senator McConnell includes provisions to streamline certain nominations and to eliminate the filibuster on the motion to proceed. If Senator McConnell refuses to support these minor reforms, Klein reports that Senator Reid is prepared to add a “shifting the burden” provision to the package, and to advance this more substantial package by the constitutional option. Such a reform would help raise the cost of obstruction and cut down on the unprecedented filibuster abuse of recent years.  
    • Absence of “Talking Filibuster” Increases Importance of Including “Shifting the Burden”: Reports indicate that the talking filibuster provision, which forms the heart of the S. Res. 4 package of reforms introduced by reform champions Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), will not make it into the final Senate rules reform package.  As Huffington Post reports, Senator Merkley said he would continue to advocate for the talking filibuster, but noted, “Sometimes you have to settle for the silver or bronze standard, but I’m still advocating for the gold standard.”  The absence of the talking filibuster increases the necessity of including in the final reform package the shifting the burden provision, which Senator Merkley called, a “step in a positive direction.”
    • About the Constitutional Option & Enacting Reforms: Senator Merkley noted yesterday, “Leader Reid has left open two paths to rules changes. While I’ve always thought that improving how the Senate works should be an area ripe for bipartisan agreement, it is clear at this point that the constitutional option would produce the strongest package and make the Senate more functional.” The Fix the Senate Now coalition agrees.  A rules change is necessary to repair a broken Senate. Unprecedented obstruction in the Senate has prevented deliberation, decreased compromise, imposed a minority veto on virtually all legislation, and created a crisis in our judiciary, as critical vacancies remain unfilled. The Senate has an opportunity to reform itself in the coming days.  It should take the opportunity to do so.

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    Major Progressive Leaders: Seize the Moment & Fix the Senate

    Washington, DC – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is reported to be working to advance a substantive package of Senate rules reforms this week and is prepared to use the constitutional option to enact reform, if necessary. To support the push for real reform, dozens of organizations involved in the Fix the Senate Now coalition have sent over 2.5 million emails to members on the importance of fixing the Senate, leading to more than 75,000 phone calls and nearly one million petition signatures delivered to Senate offices.

    Today, in advance of this week’s activities, leaders and principals involved in Fix the Senate Now are speaking out, calling on the Senate to take advantage of the opportunity to enact real Senate reforms:

    • Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice: “Senate Democrats soon will make a decision that will have profound consequences not just for this year or this Congress, but for decades.  If they support using the constitutional option to enact real rules reform, they can end the gridlock that has paralyzed the Senate and done incalculable harm to millions of Americans.  Yes, it is the current Republican minority that broke the Senate.  They placed their desire to undermine the presidency of Barack Obama ahead of the needs of the American people.  Now the question is, who will fix it?  If rules reform fails, then every time the nomination of a good judge is thwarted, and every time progressive legislation fails to get an up-or-down vote, responsibility will rest with those few who failed to take decisive action when they had the opportunity.”
    • Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club: “The American people are sick and tired of a Washington that doesn’t work, where corporate polluters profit while progress on our most pressing problems is obstructed. Our Senators have a real opportunity to change the status quo by passing true filibuster reform, and the Sierra Club and our 2.1 million members and supporters urge them to put the best interests of American families before more obstructionism.”
    • Larry Cohen, President of the Communications Workers of America (CWA): “More than a million constituents have weighed in for changes in the Senate rules. Senators must vote to end gridlock.  We cannot let this moment in history pass.  Working families cannot continue to pay the price for the Senate's inaction and its inability to debate the issues that are so important to our families and communities.” 
    • Mary Kay Henry, International President of SEIU: "Meaningful debate on issues that shape the future of our country ranging from immigration reform to healthcare implementation must be discussed in the next Congress.  We must act now to ensure the Senate will be able to debate critical issues."
    • Ben Jealous, President of NAACP: "The American people are losing faith in our democratic political process.  We need to act now and end silent filibusters that run rampant in the U.S. Senate.  The American people deserve more transparency and accountability and to hear a full debate on issues that have such a profound impact on their lives."
    • Michael Waldman, President of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law: “The U.S. Senate and Majority Leader Reid have a historic opportunity to fix the Senate. The last Congress was one of the least productive of all time. We urge Senator Reid and his colleagues to rise to the moment. They must reject yet another handshake deal and support real change in the Senate. It’s time to cut down on needless obstruction and gridlock. Fixing the filibuster is the first step in revitalizing our government.”

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